I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Speak, Memory

Jane Clarke
Contemporary Irish Women Poets: Memory and Estrangement, by Lucy Collins, Liverpool University Press, 224 pp, €75, ISBN: 978-1781381878 Reading Lucy Collins’s Contemporary Irish Women Poets: Memory and Estrangement has a particular resonance in this commemorative year with the belated acknowledgement of the role of women in the Easter Rising and its exploration in academic and public discourse. Consideration of how and why women’s activism before, during and after the rebellion was virtually erased from public and personal memories, poses questions about the reciprocal influence of memory and history. In her timely study Collins helps ensure that the work of contemporary women poets does not suffer a similar neglect. Through her focus on memory as the central theme, Collins highlights the contribution of contemporary Irish women’s poetry to enlarging our understanding of how memory shapes our relationship with the past, politically, socially and culturally as well as personally. This academic study is distinguished by the way Collins interweaves close readings of the work of individual poets with an exposition of the collective development of contemporary Irish women’s poetry since the 1980s. She focuses on three generations of poets, born between 1942 and 1983, exploring commonalities and differences through their engagement with memory. She devotes a chapter each to the well-known and highly regarded Eavan Boland, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Medbh McGuckian and Vona Groarke, as well as a chapter to the relatively unknown avant-garde poet Catherine Walsh. She juxtaposes poets in illuminating ways. There is a chapter focusing on how the personal and the political are entwined in the work of Paula Meehan, Mary O’Malley and Colette Bryce and another on migrant identities in the work of Sinead Morrissey, Eva Bourke and Mairéad Byrne. Collins comes to the work of each poet with the rigorous and respectful attention of an archaeologist. She gives us a sense of the development of the poet’s oeuvre, looking at where they fit into and how they shape the ever-evolving tradition as well as throwing light on particular poems. Collins’s choice of memory as the thread she follows through the work of these poets is a fruitful one. The phenomenon of memory is endlessly intriguing and as powerful as it is mysterious. While writers have an intuitive sense of the symbiotic relationship between memory and imagination, recent developments in neuroscience have influenced how this relationship is conceptualised in other fields of human endeavour. Memory can be seen as a storyteller, shaped as much by subjective expectations…

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